Welcome to part two of my ‘essential exercises’ series, this time focusing on the upper body. There are so many different exercises you can do with the upper body, so here are just five that anyone is capable of doing and should be doing. Each one targets a different body part so you will get a complete upper body burn!
Bench press: This is the best, most obvious way to work your chest and one of my favourites to show off how strong I am! Lie on a flat bench, with the barbell racked overhead. Dismount barbell with a wide overhand grip and hold over your upper chest. Lower the bar to touch your mid-chest, and then press it upwards until arms are extended. Make sure you are pressing the bar in a straight line above your chest, not towards your face. Look towards that point and not at the bar.
(Note: The bar itself weighs 20 kilos without any plates, so if you’re just starting out grab a lighter pre-weighted barbell and lie on an ordinary flat bench. Try to have someone spot you the first time you move over to the rack – you may be surprised by how heavy the bar actually is!)
Lat pull downs: My favourite back exercise. Sit at the lat pull down machine, grasping the bar with a wide grip. Pull the bar down to your upper chest, pause, and then slowly return the bar to the starting position by fully straightening your arms and shoulders. Make sure your feet remain flat on the ground and keep your shoulders down and back (away from your neck), while you pinch your shoulders together.
Skull crushers: Not as scary as the name sounds, what is also known as a lying triceps extension is my favourite way to work my triceps. Lie on a flat bench and press a barbell (I prefer to use an EZ-Curl bar) straight over your shoulders with a narrow overhand grip. Lower the bar until it almost touches your forehead by bending your elbows, making sure your upper arms remain stationary from your elbows to your shoulders. You should feel a burn in your triceps. Straighten your arms and repeat. Again, be careful of not going too heavy here or you will literally crush your skull!
Bicep curls: An essential part of any training program, specially designed to target your ‘beach’ muscles. Hold two dumbbells by your side, palms facing in. Keeping your elbows close to your side, raise one dumbbell while rotating your forearm until your palm is facing your shoulder. Lower to starting position and repeat with the opposite side. It is best to alternate sides as it really allows each bicep muscle to be isolated. Just your arm should be curling – don’t use your whole body to lift the weight!
Shoulder press: The best way to build up size in your shoulders and create that sought-after triangle shape. Stand with feet shoulder width apart, holding a dumbbell in each hand. Lift your arms up with your elbows bent and just below shoulder height. Push the dumbbells upwards until your arms are extended overhead. Lower to starting position and repeat.
Again, reps and sets are based on your experience. If you are new to weight lifting stick to three sets of 12-15 reps, but if you are more advanced try five sets of six to 10 reps.